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Commentary: A Nurse Remembers Her Patients with Special Pins

By Marcia Gruber


Buffalo, NY – Nurses often discuss the importance of treating patients as unique individuals. One of my colleagues does this in a rather distinctive way.

Sabrina is a registered nurse in our chemotherapy satellite office. She has been a registered professional nurse for 17 years and an oncology nurse for 5. Each day, Sabrina wears a vest that displays a variety of colorful pins that our patients have given to her. Each pin symbolizes a life, a personality and a story.

More than 100 "gifts" are pinned on Sabrina's vest. One by one, I point to a pin and Sabrina tells me the story of the person who gave it to her. I point to a butterfly pin and Sabrina says," I always called this patient "Madam Butterfly". I point to another - Sabrina says, "This patient served in the Navy during the Korean War and this is the pin he then." And another - "This woman worked at Sears for 35 years gave me her 35 year pin." I then pointed to a pin in the shape of a microphone and Sabrina says, "He was a disc jockey and these are the call letters of the station where he worked." A patient named Victor gave her a pin that looks like an old RCA victrola. A Native American patient gave Sabrina a silver Dream Catcher. He told her that bad dreams get caught in the center web and good dreams come through the feathers. Sabrina has a Nurse pin with angel wings from a patient who always called her "Angel." A lawyer gave her a pin of the Scales of Justice.

Sabrina shows me several pins from Russian patients. They are colorful and given with love, even though she cannot read the Russian inscription on them. A patient who collected pins from all of the Empire State Games presented all those pins to her. Another patient trained horses and competed in the Olympics. One of his horses won gold and silver medals and the patient gave these pins to Sabrina.

Another patient who was on a US battleship that sank during WWII gave Sabrina a pin from his uniform. A patient, who knitted during all her chemo treatments, gave Sabrina a pin of knitting needles. Once, Sabrina shared a personal story with a patient about her own father who was a championship welter weight boxer. That patient brought Sabrina a pin of pink boxing gloves. One of our patients worked at a Pharmaceutical Company for more than 30 years. When he retired, he received a pin with a tiny diamond on it. When he gave that pin to Sabrina, he said "I was waiting for the right woman to come along to give this diamond." There are many more pins and many more stories but we have limited time.

The pins and these stories reveal the hope, strength, history, beliefs, vulnerability and humor that patients bring with them as they journey through illness and treatment. Each pin is indeed a gift and each of these gifts reveals the very important and special relationship between a patient and a nurse.

To my nurse colleagues, I ask that you never doubt how many lives you touch and never underestimate the importance of what you do for patients. But most importantly, never forget that each of your patients hold a unique place in this world.

Listener-Commentator Marcia Gruber is vice president of Therapeutic and Patient Access at Roswell Park Cancer Institute.

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